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by Ean Jury

On St. Patrick’s Day, green beer and Guinness flow, leaving glasses empty, bars overcrowded, and green-clad celebrators inebriated for hours. Drunken revelers celebrate their “Irishness” by guzzling down beers, shots, and mixed drinks in record time for a cultural holiday that has turned March 17 into one of the most alcohol-fueled days of the year.

Every year, college students attend parties and bars on this day with one goal: to get completely shamrocked. It’s a phrase that encourages college students to binge drink to the point of blacking out. While it’s fine to toast to the Emerald Isles patron, St. Patrick, it is still important to understand the side effects of binge drinking before becoming incoherent and bleary-eyed.

According to Dr. Jim Sample, an emergency physician at Westmoreland Emergency Room, binge drinking can damage the liver and the brain.

“When a person who does not abuse alcohol on a regular basis consumes a large quantity of alcohol in a short period of time, it can damage these organs,” he said, “The liver can only metabolize about one drink per hour, so when someone binge drinks, the liver cannot absorb all of the alcohol fast enough. This, in turn, can lead to alcohol poisoning.”

While binge drinking is mostly associated with minor, acute side effects such as nausea, vomiting, memory loss, and dehydration, it is possible that other more serious complications can arise as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,825 college students die each year from binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs when drinking causes the blood alcohol content (BAC) to rise above .08 percent. This typically occurs when a male consumes five or more drinks and/or when a woman consumes four or more drinks in two hours.

In fact, 75 percent of all alcohol consumed by adults is in the form of binge drinking. The ratio is even greater among college students, with 90 percent of all alcohol consumption occurring as binge drinking.

According to Tharon Logan, the owner of The Point in downtown Greenburg, St. Patrick’s Day is one of her busiest days of the year.

“People come in around 10 a.m. and drink for the rest of the day, well into the early hours of the morning,” she said, “It’s one of the only times I hire security. Customers often become belligerent and unruly.”

One of the greatest problems with binge drinking is impaired judgment. Due to the amount of alcohol in their system, people can no longer rely on their decision-making skills. This, in turn, results in some drunks thinking they are sober enough to drive.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it slows down the central nervous system and inhibits brain cells.

“When your central nervous system slows, you are not able to process things sharply or quickly,” said Dr. Sample. “So when people drive drunk, they are often unable to process what lane they are driving in, when they should turn, etc. All important decision-making skills are impaired.”

So when you go out, be smart. If you intend to be out all day, pace yourself. If you want to bar hop, go with friends you trust who will dissuade you from belligerence. If you’re drunk, don’t drive; call for a designated driver instead. While drinking and celebrating can be fun, it can also be dangerous if you don’t know how or when to exercise caution.

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